Your Actions Don’t Have to be Extraordinary to be Extraordinary

In 2007, I was a recent college graduate that owned a business called Novel Projects, inc. I’d founded the company on some interesting ideas of how to use computers to measure the writing style of books. The idea was simple – if you knew how one book was written compared to another, you could use that data to help a reader find books to read based on what they liked in the past. The problem was that I had no resources – I had a degree in Psychology, hardly the ideal business candidate. I had no money, no employees, and I’d just moved to a new town after graduation – I had no contacts.

At the time, Google operated the largest full text scanning project in the world, and I thought, “Ah, this might be of interest to them.” Unfortunately, they didn’t answer my phone calls. They didn’t respond to my e-mails. So after months of putting off doing anything at all, I bought a plane ticket and flew to Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. I was completely unannounced, they had no idea that I was coming or who I was, and my goal was to sit in their lobby every day for two weeks until someone at the company heard out my ideas.

I arrived in Mountain View, drove to their campus, blissfully walked by all the security guards that had been hired to keep out guys like me, and introduced myself to the first receptionist I found.

“My name is Aaron Stanton,” I said, handing over a business card – printed for $12 at an online business card store. “I own a business called Novel Projects, and I’m working on a project I think Google should know about. Is there anyone I can talk to?”

I was rejected. Undaunted, I immediately left that lobby and walked around until I found another. I tried again, with a slightly different angle.

“My name is Aaron Stanton,” I said. “My father just nearly died from an embolism, it scared the crap out of me, and I’ve flown 700 miles from Idaho to talk to someone at Google and make him proud of me.” All true, by the way. The response I got from this variation was very sympathetic, but still a No. Google wouldn’t give me a meeting just walking in the door. After about 2 other lobbies, I eventually gave up and returned to my rental car.

Luckily, I had a backup plan. I had started a website called CanGoogleHearMe.com – a blog with video postings documenting my attempts to be heard inside the castle walls of one of the largest Internet companies of all time. Its entire purpose was simply to be a viral marketing technique inside of Google. If someone at a front desk asked me what they could do to help, I could give them my website and ask them to pass it up to the next person they thought might be able to help. What I figured was that if I could get one person inside the company to be my champion, I’d get my chance.

I returned to my rental car and made a video post about my rejection. By midnight of that night, word started to get around. By the next day, nearly 3,000 people from inside the Googleplex in Mountain View had visited the site. Soon it was picked up by bloggers and the mainstream news – stories were spun about David vs. Goliath, the little guy vs. the big guy, a description I’ve never been comfortable with. I was interviewed by Wired, PC World Magazine, and the Seattle Times. I had calls from ABC News, and was interviewed on BBC in England. I was on the front page of the largest newspaper in Australia, and was compared to the founder of Apple Computer by the founder of AOL. And I received e-mails. Thousands of good luck e-mails from complete strangers wishing me luck, at one point at a rate of about 10 e-mails per minute. During my first week in California, CanGoogleHearMe.com was the 5th fastest growing website in the world, with hundreds of thousands of users passing through the site.

The response to the blog was amazing, and I ended up getting my meeting with Google. It was my first significant public success, launched me on the path I’m on today, and much of this book is built on the lessons learned on the entrepreneurial journey that’s followed.

But this is the point of this chapter: All that response, the thousands of good luck e-mails, the interviews, the media attention, all of it was basically for something as simple as going up and knocking on the front door. I didn’t really do anything that special. In fact, sales people do cold calls all the time. So the question is, why did I get so much media attention? Why did people care so much?

That’s a hard question, but there’s one obvious answer. It worked because despite the fact that getting on a plane without knowing the outcome of your journey isn’t that hard in concept, actually doing it makes you more unique than you think. I’m not talking about just showing up and asking to be let in. I’m talking about making the decision to stop whatever you’re doing – take a break from your job, family, friends, and the comfortable, settled normality of regular life – and one day decide to do everything in your power to make your dreams happen. To set aside the fear of rejection and failure and to give it your best.

Taking that sort of leap, putting that much faith into something as intangible as “the future” without a solid history of success, is scary. In other words, as simple as it might seem, most people never make it far enough to actually get on the plane, and act. Sometimes the extraordinary part is not what the action is, but simply that you’ve got the guts, gumption, and drive to follow it through.

Sometimes you can prove your qualifications for the job simply by showing up.

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